Berry Medicine!

Mid-August to mid-September spells Elderberry season, so let the harvest begin! Elderberry syrup is a fantastic anti-viral medicine for the Cold and Flu viruses and of course Elderberries grow everywhere in the UK so it is essentially free (well minus the labour costs of picking and preparing of course but this is worth it!)  Considering that this syrup sells for £10+ a pop (for a 200ml bottle),  it makes econonmical sense to make your own. True that it is is bit time intensive to make on the day but a batch can last you the winter.

Medicinal Properties of Elderberries

The great thing about elderberries is that it tastes great and is safe for all the family – the syrup can be food as well as medicine. Studies show that this impressive little berry stops viruses from getting into our cells by ‘deactivating’ the spikes on the outside of viruses (such as the flu virus) and preventing them from penetrating our cells. It does this by inhibiting an enzyme called neuraminidase. The ‘spikes’ on virus cells are coated in this substance which helps them to get through our cell walls- but Elderberries stop this enzyme from working. Not only has Elderberry extract been shown to offer protection against the cold/flu in the first place, but it also reduces the severity and duration of infection. Good stuff…

Get Collecting

The best part. Time consuming but enjoyable. Get out in nature and actually pic the Elderberries from the Elder Tree. Harvesting wild fruit is the best as they have the most medicinal value. I have a resources section on foraging for wild herbs/foods if you are interested. Make a mental note of where you find them because you can guarantee that each year the same trees will produce fruit – for a supply of Elderberry syrup on an annual basis.

No Time or Not in Season?

Missed the collecting season? You can use dried berries as a substitute. Or you could of course head to your local health food store and simply buy a supply of elderberry syrup for the winter- though this is nowhere near as fun and more £££. Sambucol, Pukka and Neal’s Yard Remedies all do some nice syrups.

My Elderberry Syrup Recipe

Anyway, here is the recipe I used a few weeks back. I made a batch for my dad to get him through the winter. It’s one of the few herbal remedies I can actually get him to take regularly- because it tastes like cordial – he has it with sparkling water- as pictured below! Ingredients are as follows:

The Fruits of your Labour

Freshly Picked Elderberries…I usually collect a large carrier bag full. If you want you can use the dried berries- you need less (half the amount)

Sugar or Honey

If I could leave out the extra sugar I would – but for preservation purposes it is essential. Especially if you want to store it out of the fridge, in this case you may need 65% sugar concentration. Generally I prefer a 50% concentration because the less sugar- the better for health. If you want you can skip the sugar altogether and just freeze the juice/concentrate in containers- this will last the winter.

Filtered Water

I like to infuse this water with herbs/spices before using. Simmer a pan of water with cinnamon quills, a few cloves, a big chunk of ginger- sliced, some thyme and Elderflowers if you have them. Elderflowers help to thin catarrh.

Extra Spices

I like adding extra dry powdered ginger or grated fresh (add lots- don’t be shy), 1tbsp cloves and a good spoon of powdered cinnamon. Not only do these add medicinal value (being anti-microbials, but they also help to preserve the syrup)


Sieve, muslin cloth/jelly bag to strain, sterilized jam jars/bottles. I have used wine bottles and old jam jars- both are fine. Just wash in hot water, rinse with freshly boiled water then dry in a low oven (1100 degrees Celsius for 20 mins is fine). You can also just put them through the hot cycle on your dishwasher.


  •  Separate the berries from the storks – I find a fork is by far the easiest way to do this
  • In a saucepan add however many elderberries you are left with and pour over some of the infused water, as detailed above. Not too much- just half way up the berries is enough. Then bring to the boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for around half an hour.
  •  After half an hour turn off the heat, mash the berries up with a potato masher and leave the mix to cool.
  • Once cooled, strain by lining a sieve with a piece of muslin cloth (cheesecloth) – you may need to fold this over twice. Leave to drip into a glass jug, mixing with a spoon to speed the process up. At the end you can squeeze the cloth to get the last bit of juice out. You will be left with an incredible ruby-coloured juice.
  •  Now- all you need to do is add equal parts sugar or honey to whatever amount of liquid you have. Dissolve over low heat until all granules have gone and it is a syrupy consistence (or if using honey- just briefly reheat). Pour into sterilized jars or bottles, place the lids on and leave to cool. Remember to turn the jars occasionally to prevent condensation..
  •  Best kept in the fridge for freshness – a jar in the back of the fridge will serve you well throughout the winter. Unless you make a high sugar preparation which you can keep in the cupboard.
  • Now Consume! Enjoy this ‘medicine’ each day. Add a teaspoon or 2 to your porridge, in smoothies, or drinks (I have it as a cold drink with sparkling water or with hot water- a bit like hot Vimto but better!) If you are actually sick, then you can have several doses throughout the day. This is why it is nice to keep some unsweetened juice or berries in the freezer too because you can take larger doses without the large amount of sugar.

& ENJOY – this herbal medicine actually tastes nice!




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